Review – Kaiji The Ultimate Gambler (2009)

Anime Reporter takes a look at Kaiji the Ultimate Gambler, the live action film inspired by the eponymous manga series by Nobuyuki Fukumoto and the 26 episode anime series.

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Kaiji Ito, (played by Battle Royale’s leading man Tatsuya Fujiwara), is a slacker, a dreamer and a gambler, though not a particularly successful one. Kaiji works in a job he couldn’t care less about and dreams of winning big and getting rich, though he has nothing but resentment for anyone richer than him.

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Kaiji’s luck changes from poor to worse when an old friend goes missing and leaves Kaiji responsible for settling his hefty debts. Barely able to pay his rent, Kaiji certainly can’t cover his friend’s sizeable loan repayment. He’s given an opportunity to turn it all around. A ship will be leaving port soon, a ship that will offer many men the chance to earn a small fortune and change their lives if they can win a game. Those who lose… well, suffice it to say, it won’t be pretty.

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Kaiji, along with ever other desperate soul on the ship, risks what little they have in games of chance where every friend could be an enemy in disguise and any ally you can trust may still just hold them back.

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Kaiji the Ultimate Gambler is an interesting tale, focusing on the so-called losers of society, those who dream and leech and drift through life. These characters are portrayed as desperate fools who’ll jump at any opportunity dangled before them, while in reality they are the puppets and pawns of the rich and powerful. Kaiji himself seems to be an honourable, if somewhat naïve young man. He is reckless, brave and honest, though he often fails to notice when he trusts someone who doesn’t have his best interests at heart.

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True to its manga roots, this film feels like a few storylines together and a few main gambling events spread out across the film, each with the promise of letting Kaiji and others either rise to glory or fall to damnation.

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The cast is quite strong, with many a fine performance from Tatsuya. Kaiji’s fellow gamblers are well-portrayed, though they each feel more like background characters and Kaiji’s struggle is the one which receives by far the most attention. The antagonists, all wealthy and ambitious members of a wealthy company are the most featured characters after Kaiji himself and all are quite well developed and portrayed.

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Kaiji’s status as lone protagonist in many situations means that quite a lot of his inner thoughts are expressed only through monologues, which can feel a little bit cheesy in a live-action setting though his struggle is carried well by Tatsuya’s range as an actor.

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Kaiji the Ultimate Gambler offers high stakes situations with many live or death wagers on offer, but the film is far from graphic and rests comfortably at an age rating of 12. While the plot isn’t particularly sophisticated or deep, there’s more than enough emotion and high stakes to keep viewers’ interest.

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Kaiji the Ultimate Gambler is currently available on DVD in Ireland and England.

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Plot:                 6.5

Cast:                8.5

Characters:      7

Drama:             8

Entertainment: 8

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76% – We have a winner! – Kaiji the Ultimate Gambler is the tale of a young man desperate to win riches and glory to free him from what he sees as a wasted life. Kaiji may have to fall to new depths to learn the true value of the life he once led, though by then, hell need a whole lot of luck just to return to that life.

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Posted in Live Action Film, Reviews

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